send to a friend
Send us your feedback

Parks + Waterfront

Parks + Waterfront

Waterfront Design

“It’s artful, capricious, fun to the senses, beautiful. The landscape architecture of the Olympic Village waterfront is a thousand times more progressive than other waterfronts we’ve done.”
– Larry Beasley, former Director of Planning, City of Vancouver


Source: PWL Partnership, 2007.

The most storied district in a seaside town is its waterfront, and Vancouver is no exception. In the SEFC former industrial zone, the waterfront teemed with thousands of workers, as well as ship and rail traffic converging to exchange goods.

The transition from abandoned industrial site to vibrant sustainable community would depend heavily on successfully revisioning this waterfront. Scot Hein says drawing on history was part of the answer.

“What you see with the completed first phase is a design approach that’s kind of gritty; it reflects a working place. It has a naturalistic edge to it – it hasn’t been sanitized, it’s not pristine, it has historic materials like the boardwalk, and native plantings. It’s heavy and substantial; it has an authentic identity.”


Photos from the newly completed seawall at SEFC. Source: PWL Partnership, 2009.

PWL Partnership Landscape Architects were the lead design firm for the waterfront, parks and most public realm areas throughout Olympic Village. Principal Margot Long says the City asked for innovation.

“They asked us to look around the city, especially at the seawall, and push what was done there, to make it more animated,” she says. “So we wanted to have the development engage the foreshore – have people be able to get to the water wherever, and whenever, they wanted.”

“The City also asked us to make this waterfront – 650 metres in length – one continuous park, rather than a wall punctuated by parks. That was a new idea. And the seawall itself is different. It’s got 4.5 metres of width for pedestrians and 4.5 metres for cycling, wider than most of our streets.”

“In Southeast False Creek there’s a lot happening between the edge of the pedestrian path and the water,” says Tilo Driessen, Vancouver Park Planner. “There are benches, rip-rap, big granite blocks tumbling down to the water, decks that jut out over the water. Plus we did the things the Department of Fisheries required to create productive fish habitat. I think it will be appreciated by people. The water side of the path offers so much reason to go there and inhabit the area.”


“I think parks are incredibly important, especially for people who live in cities,” says Driessen. “There’s a fundamental connection between the natural environment and people. It’s where we belong. Parks in the city allow urban residents to partake in that connection.”

Vancouver’s standard for neighbourhood park space is 2.75 acres per 1,000 residents. Regional parks such as Stanley Park, which serve populations beyond their immediate district, occur at a rate of 6 acres per 1,000 residents. Beyond that, park design is anything but standard.

Margot Long says the City’s approach to parks and public spaces in Olympic Village was focused on quality.

“This was a completely different model from others in the city. The City developed these public spaces, as opposed to working with a developer to develop them and then turning them over to the City,” she says. “This proved to me that the City has stepped up to the plate to develop public spaces as they want to see them done. They set the bar.”

Long says hosting the Olympic Games forced a quick timeline, but otherwise did little to influence SEFC’s park design.

“There’s not one thing here that was designed just because of the Olympics. That’s part of the success. I think the City can be really proud of that.”

Community and Boating Centre


An illustrative plan of the Community Centre highlighting access to the waterfront and the non-motorized boating facility. The west end of the centre will house a waterfront restaurant. The daycare facility will include a play area on the roof, overlooking False Creek. Source: PWL Partnership, 2007.

A space for recreation and meetings, housing a large daycare centre and rooftop play garden, the SEFC Community Centre lies at the waterfront on the east side of the Olympic Village site. A non-motorized boating centre will extend onto the water with piers for dragonboats, sailboats, canoes and kayaks. (Read more about Community Centre design in Chapter 4.) These amenities will help draw people to the waterfront, and encourage an active lifestyle for residents.

Habitat Island

The redeveloped waterfront at Olympic Village has brought new life to the neighbourhood – in more ways than expected.


Habitat Island was constructed to make up for habitat that was lost when another area of the False Creek shoreline was filled to enable development. The island includes vertical snags, native vegetation and a natural shoreline, which have attracted bald eagles and a variety of waterfowl. Source: PWL Partnership, 2009.

The City’s plan for redeveloping the waterfront required that a portion of shoreline be filled. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans initially resisted the plan, arguing that filling would diminish shoreline area and associated habitat. The need to create habitat for wildlife eventually led a team of environmental consultants – including Lee Nickol and Barb Warnik from Golder Associates and Mark Adams from Envirowest – to propose building a small island off the SEFC shore. This innovative solution allowed the City to proceed with its plan, replaced lost shoreline area and resulted in a net increase in the area of intertidal fish habitat and park space.

The island and naturalized segments of the shoreline host aquatic, riparian and upland ecologies, including vertical snags, native vegetation and a natural shoreline that have attracted perching bald eagles and a variety of waterfowl. The habitat island and natural shoreline demonstrate the ability to reintroduce natural habitat back into the urban environment. The island form maximized the extent of new shoreline; a connecting segment of land emerges at low tide which provides limited access to the public. Proof of success appeared in the fall of 2008 when herring returned to spawn, for the first time in many years, on a one kilometre stretch of the once toxic shoreline of SEFC.


Herring have laid eggs on approximately 1 km of shoreline spreading east from Habitat Island. Marine biologists confirm that the environmental cleanup and shoreline habitat creation is a huge success. Source: PWL Partnership, 2009.

Hinge Park

At the northwest corner of Olympic Village, where the shoreline bends southward, is a new park with the working name of Hinge Park. A wetland winds through it, with songbird houses and places where kids can clamber on rocks and poke in the mud. Several bridges cross the water, including one made of a large section of storm sewer pipe. Follow the meandering paths and you arrive at the waterfront, gazing at Habitat Island with the downtown skyline beyond.


Hinge Park becomes a reality, from sketches to illustrative plans to construction photos. The wetland will remediate stormwater with its winding channels and plantlife. An elementary school and community demonstration garden will be built adjacent to the park. Source: PWL Partnership, 2006.

What you may not realize as you watch ducks forage in the reeds is that the wetland is a treatment pond handling stormwater runoff from the entire west side of Olympic Village.

“We’ve taken the infrastructure out of the ground and opened it up,” says Margot Long of PWL Partnership, the landscape architects who designed the park. “A lot of what makes the Village sustainable is subliminal. If you didn’t know about sustainability you’d just think it was playful.”

Park Board Planner Tilo Driessen says combining the engineering function of the rainwater remediation area with a children’s play park “was a big step for us.”


Aerial photograph of Hinge Park, under construction. Source: Danny Singer, 2009.

“Whenever you put water near children, they want to play with it. And wherever you have water, you have mud; some people have issues with that,” he says. “But it’s important for us to make the exposure to natural elements a part of children’s play. Perhaps too many of our playgrounds are one-sided. We may start to include more sand and sticks and all that stuff.”

Driessen says the park must respond to the needs of the residents in this new type of community.

“People who will move into Southeast False Creek won’t have access to backyards, so it’s important to offer this opportunity. In higher density cities, communal gardens take on some of the functions of backyards. We have to allow for that.”

Long says many aspects of Hinge Park serve more than one purpose. A water play feature at the south end uses potable water (not re-circulated chlorinated water) to feed the wetland during dry summer months. Bridges and stepping stones are placed to stimulate creative play even while they satisfy visual and functional values. A structured play area is designed for both disabled and able-bodied people. Wildlife habitat, natural play and aesthetic values merge. The sewer pipe bridge and homes for birds subtly educate visitors about infrastructure, interconnectedness and sustainability.

“The whole storm system is visible. It’s a landscape feature, it’s an amenity,” she says. “You don’t need the pipes, so we’ve brought them up and used them for something else. There’s the idea of reuse, that you don’t have to throw things away, ideas away. For me it’s ultimately a real sense of discovery.”

East Park

On the east side of Olympic Village, East Park also mixes an outdoor space for residents with stormwater treatment. The park uses bioswales – wide shallow ditches planted with greenery – to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water.


East Park in sketches and plans, including
bioswales that will also treat stormwater. Source: PWL Partnership, 2007.

“We want any landscape to serve multiple purposes,” says Margot Long. “Open spaces have less chance of being infilled if they’re serving a good purpose.

“The entire Olympic Village project offers such great animating richness, with shipyards, the history of place, First Nations,” she continues. “We had to push the edges, and yet we don’t know how the places we’ve designed will ultimately be used – there are probably a lot of opportunities we haven’t envisioned yet.

“A lot of placemaking is about having places flexible enough so that they can serve many activities and uses over time, and become the residents’ own.”

Pocket Park

Nestled into a corner at the north edge of Olympic Village is a small park with a big role.

Pocket Park provides a “neighbourhood park” experience for residents, different from the regional feel of the seawall, says Margot Long of PWL Partnership, the park’s designers. Located next to the social housing, Long says Pocket Park is designed for families – even though it lacks any explicit play equipment.


Pocket Park is designed for families, offering
opportunities for imaginative play without formal playground equipment. The original Canron gantry
crane, painted yellow, will be installed overhead to recall the site’s industrial heritage. Source: PWL Partnership, 2007.

“The play elements are landscape elements as well. For example, there are four gateways, where kids can go through a pipe and be in a playhouse. But you could look at it and just say it’s a green space.”

The little park will also become home to the largest industrial artifact in SEFC (except heritage buildings) – the old gantry crane saved from the Canron steel fabrication building. The crane will define the Park’s overhead space.


Source: PWL Partnership, 2007.

“In a backyard, people don’t sit on the open lawn,” says Tilo Driessen of the Vancouver Park Board. “They sit under a pergola, or on the deck; there’s always some sense of enclosure or definition. The crane provides that. It almost turns that little park into a room, a beautiful marriage for heritage and recreational objectives.

“It’s a little jewel of a park – I think people will love it.”

“Many artifacts relating to these industries … are of considerable heritage value. They evoke the experience of working here, where big machines shifted and sorted materials, engines roared and gears complained, the air filled with the smell of materials being heated, cut and shaped, and welding torches flared. …

In the 1950s, 5 per cent of Vancouver’s work force, or 7,400 people, worked in industries on False Creek. The power of these in situ artifacts to evoke the experience of work is very important; they provoke us to think about what kind of work was done here, how it got done, and who did it.”

– Foreshore Lands Statement of Significance, 2004

Canoe Bridge

A signature installation along the waterfront, a 40 metre pedestrian bridge frames the tidal amphitheatre. The Canoe Bridge is designed to evoke the ribs of canoes and kayaks, celebrating the non-motorized boating area to its north. Its walkway is steel grating, allowing views to the water below, and creating fewer shadows on the water to maximize habitat value.


The bridge’s design evokes the heavy industry of the site’s past and also forms a visual link to the geodesic dome of Science World (seen in background). Source: PWL Partnership, 2009.

The bridge was built by Megatech and installed by Wilco. Says Long, “They did a great job. The workmanship is phenomenal. The contractors are taking so much pride in what they’re doing. They worked really hard.”


The “Canoe” pedestrian bridge being installed on a very rainy day in Vancouver. Source: City of Vancouver, 2008.

Source: PWL Partnership Landscape Architects Inc., 2007